Along with trimming the tree, making cookies and enjoying the lights, there are certain traditions that I look forward to each Christmas. One of them is enjoying stories of the season in various forms of pop culture media — movies, television shows (if the second season episode of Happy Days where Fonzie comes over to the Cunningham’s for Christmas dinner doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes with Christmas spirit, I don’t know what will) and literary ones.
One of the familiar stories that makes its way into my rotation every few years is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ll still admit I’ve got a soft spot for the Disney records adaptation that my parents gave me years ago on vinyl with Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge and a lot of catchy songs that will get stuck in your head for days, but I still enjoy visiting the story of Scrooge and the spirits in the original Dickens. I’ve listened to a couple of audio versions of the story, performed by various actors from Patrick Stewart to Tim Curry, but this year’s visit was performed by the man best known for his role as the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.
I’ll admit I’ve got a certain fondness for Mr. Baker, so it’s hard to set aside that bias here. But his performance of this classic story is among the more satisfying and enjoyable I’ve heard. And given that I’m not generally a huge fan of his readings of classic Doctor Who Target novels, that really surprised me. Baker is restrained at times and completely over the top at times, but it all works. He brings an infectious joy to the transformed Scrooge that works so well that he cast aside memories of the previous audio version I’d listened to with Tim Curry. (He won’t necessarily make you forget Patrick Stewart, but then again few actors will make you forget Patrick Stewart).
As always, when it comes to re-reading a familiar story, I’m struck by the nuances that are included in Dickens’ original telling and those that don’t generally make it into the pop culture adaptations. One thing that struck me this time is that the ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge back to his childhood and establishes a bit more of his relationship with his sister and tells us her fate. It’s helps to establish one more reason that Scrooge becomes as hard-hearted as he is when we meet him in this story. I also find it intriguing to see what his nephew’s wife thinks of Scrooge during the ghost of Christmas present segment. Too often, I think adaptations in pop culture emphasize the Cratchett family and Tiny Tim and overlook some of the other connections that Scrooge has.
It’s one good reason to be a literary snob and pick up the original source material every once in a while — whether on the printed page or as an audio book. And this audio book is one of the more engaging and spirited (pun fully intended) versions I’ve experienced and one that I highly recommend if you’re looking for a good way to enjoy a classic and get into the holiday spirit.